WordPress for Writers: Tips, Tricks, Plugins, and Hacks – Part 1

on March 6, 2014 in Blog Management
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WordPress for Writers

From working on my own WordPress issues to seeing a minor WordPress rant from John Soares, from talking WordPress security with Lori Widmer and Cathy Miller to recommending an SEO plugin on the forums to Alicia Rades, WordPress has been the talk of the day. And it's clear that writers are all over this blog / do-just-about-anything-you-want platform.

That's a great thing. WordPress is a fantastic tool for not only blogging but also building your professional website. But to get the most out of the platform while minimizing risks, there are some things you should know.

Whether you're about to set up a WordPress site for the first time or you're an experienced pro, you might benefit from one or more of the tips, tricks, and tools I've picked up during my extensive history with the platform.

I've broken these down into a short post series. Let's start with the basics within WordPress itself.

Basic WordPress Setup and Settings

What are the first things you should do after installing WordPress, before and leading up to your first blog post? Here are a few things you might want to start with:

Install Your Theme

A WordPress theme is your design -- the Website template which will determine the look of your site. You can find plenty of free themes in the WordPress theme repository.

Personally I prefer premium themes which I then customize. You tend to get better support that way, at least when you find a worthwhile developer. But if you're working on your first site, keep it simple. Don't go for a theme that's so complex that you have to learn an entirely new back-end system right out of the gate.

After installing a new theme, I like to run a quick page speed test to make sure the theme itself isn't so bloated that it slows down the site significantly. The Pingdom Website Speed Test is a good place to start.

Delete the Default Content

Do you see that generic blog post that came with your WordPress installation? Delete it. The Sample page? Delete that too. Any lingering comments or default content that came with your theme (such as sample customized page layouts)? Get rid of 'em. You want a clean slate for your own content.

Decide on Your Site Structure

Make a list of all pages you plan to add to your website, including their hierarchy. These are static-style pages, not your blog posts. Some common examples might be an About page and a Contact page. If you don't plan to have your blog on the homepage (such as when running your business site on WordPress), you'll also want a page called Blog.

Set these pages up even if you don't immediately add the content.

Choose Your Blog Category Structure

Under the "All Posts" link in the left navigation, choose "Categories." This is where you can add the categories you plan to "file" your blog posts under. Picking a logical category structure up front can make things easier for your readers to find, but it can also prevent messy post moves and massive redirections later if you decide your category structure isn't quite right.

Set Your Homepage

If you plan to leave your homepage in blog format, don't do anything.

If you want more of a static homepage (like I have on my business site), go to the Settings link in your left menu in the WordPress admin area, and go to the Reading link.

Where you see "Front Page Displays," mark off "A Static Page." Then, in the drop down menus, choose the page you created for your new homepage (under "Front page"), and the page you created for your blog (under "Posts page").

You can also choose how many blog posts you want to display per page on your blog here.

Set Your WordPress Homepage

Set Your Site Title and Tagline

If you didn't do this during your initial setup, add your site title and your tagline under the General link under Settings in your left navigation. Your site name should be the brand name or your name, not necessarily the full domain name. For example, here the site name is "All Indie Writers," not "AllIndieWriters.com."

Your tagline should be a slogan that you want to represent your new site or brand. On my small business blog, for example, the site name is BizAmmo, and the tagline is "Your Small Business Arsenal."

This won't always display on the front-end of your site (that depends on your theme). But you should always add it. They can be pulled into use by some plugins.

WordPress Title and Tagline

Change Your Date and Time Settings

One of the issues John brought up in his post that I linked above was that he wanted WordPress to update its internal time automatically for Daylight Savings Time. A lot of bloggers don't realize this, but it actually can.

On the General Settings page, go to the Timezone section. Choose your timezone. But instead of choosing UTC plus or minus whatever, choose a city in your timezone. As long as you choose a city that abides by the same Daylight Savings rules as where you live, your WordPress clock should update automatically.

You can also change how the date and / or time display on the front-end of your site (such as under your post titles).

WordPress Timezone

Set Your Permalink Structure

Your permalinks are your sitewide URL structure. For example, when someone visits a blog post, would the page address look more like:

yoursite.com/year/month/day/category/post-name/

or:

yoursite.com/post-name/

You can set your permalink structure by clicking the Permalinks link under the Settings menu.

I personally just use the Post name option for any new sites now. Some of my older sites are on other structures, but I prefer the aesthetics of this. It's much easier to promote key posts and pages when the URLs are easy to remember and they look fairly "pretty."

WordPress Permalinks

Set Your Discussion Settings

Still under the Settings menu, now click the Discussion link. This is where you can adjust settings for how your blog comments will be handled.

The biggest thing to be concerned about is how you might protect yourself from spam. For example, you can:

  • Make commenters fill out their name and email address. (Recommended)
  • Make visitors register on your site and log in to comment. (Not recommended)
  • Force a new commenter's first comment to go to moderation, but approve their later comments automatically once you've approved the first. (Recommended -- It's far less of an intrusion for legitimate commenters than having them show up on your site and see it littered with so much spam that they can't follow the conversation to leave a comment.)
  • Force all comments to go into moderation for your approval. (Not recommended)

You can also decide if you want to receive an email for every comment that goes live or that goes to moderation. This can be a good thing early on. But once comments pick up, you might want to turn it off and just check your blog regularly.

If you end up with trolls or people spamming your site, this is also where you can come to blacklist them by IP, name, email address, website, or even keywords they're using to spam you.

WordPress Discussion Settings

Write Your Starter Content and Website Copy

Before you start promoting your new site, you'll need to get some basic copy and blog content up there. That includes, at a minimum, your About page and Contact page. If you'll run ads, you'll also need a Privacy Policy page. And if you'll have a static homepage, you'll need to draft that copy as well.

As for your blog, my basic policy is to have five posts already live on the site by launch day. But I've been known to launch with fewer (such as three) as long as I have other posts written and scheduled to go up shortly after the launch is announced. I'd try to have at least five though. When you drive people to your new site, you want them to find something of interest and not just a sales page or empty blog.

In Part Two of this post series I'll cover the next step of setting up your new WordPress site -- adding essential plugins (or at least my most recommended for writers).

Thanks for sharing!
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7 Comments

  1. Hi Jennifer,

    Nice article as usual.
    I small addition for categories:
    – delete the default ‘Uncategorized’ category
    AND
    – create a meaningful category and in Settings > Writing
    set it to be the “Default Post Category”

    Regards
    Attila

  2. Cathy Miller March 7, 2014 Reply

    Thanks for the shout-out, Jenn. This is so fabulous and I can’t wait for the rest of the series. I wish I had it when I started. :-) It certainly would have saved me some hassles.

    For example, I was sorry I originally set up my sites’ permalink structure to include the date. They now all just have the post name. And as we discussed, I was happy I held initial comments for moderation after a recent spam attack with hundreds of spam comments.

    You may cover this late (and at the risk of showing my ignorance-HA-wouldn’t be the 1st time) :-) but one thing I’ve never understood is what is the WordPress Subscriber list in Users? And should I care that there are email addresses there? They can’t access admin functions and I use Aweber for subscribers to my posts.

    I have Googled it before but never found an explanation I understood. Thanks again, Jenn.
    Cathy Miller recently posted…Does Your Marketing Timeline Deliver?My Profile

    • Author
      Jennifer Mattern March 7, 2014 Reply

      Did everything get redirected okay when you made your permalink change?

      Spam attacks are a great reason to moderate first comments. I can’t even imagine how bad it would have looked if you suddenly had 300 spam comments live on your site. Are you using the Anti-spam plugin from Webvitaly yet? If so, at least that would stop anything automated (which I would have to imagine hundreds of comments at the same time are).

      A “subscriber” is simply the default user level when someone registers for your site. So if your WP settings are set to let anyone register, then anyone who knows the default WP registration URL can register. If you don’t want registrations, you should turn that off on the General Settings page by unchecking the box next to “Membership.” What you’re seeing is simply a list of your site’s registered users, and the email addresses they’ve used to register. I wouldn’t go importing that into a newsletter or anything. It’s more about account management — seeing that they only have one account, identifying spam users, contacting them privately if there is a problem with their account, etc. It’s nothing you should have to worry about unless they look like spam users, in which case you can delete them.

  3. John Soares March 7, 2014 Reply

    Thanks for linking to my rant Jenn!

    Is there a specific premium theme you recommend, one that doesn’t require coding skills to modify?

    And what are your thoughts on Thesis?
    John Soares recently posted…5 Things About WordPress That Really Bug MeMy Profile

    • Author
      Jennifer Mattern March 7, 2014 Reply

      John, I emailed you a response privately. It got to be a bit much for a comment, so instead I’m going to re-work info on premium themes into a follow-up post after this week’s series.

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